SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Women Making War

Women Making War

Female Confederate Prisoners and Union Military Justice

Add to Cart

Thomas F. Curran


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
274 pages, 6 x 9.25, 18 illustrations


Additional Materials

  • Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Book

Partisan activities of disloyal women and the Union army’s reaction
During the American Civil War, more than four hundred women were arrested and imprisoned by the Union Army in the St. Louis area. The majority of these women were fully aware of the political nature of their actions and had made conscious decisions to assist Confederate soldiers in armed rebellion against the U.S. government. Their crimes included offering aid to Confederate soldiers, smuggling, spying, sabotaging, and, rarely, serving in the Confederate army. Historian Thomas F. Curran’s extensive research highlights for the first time the female Confederate prisoners in the St. Louis area, and his thoughtful analysis shows how their activities affected Federal military policy.
Early in the war, Union officials felt reluctant to arrest women and waited to do so until their conduct could no longer be tolerated. The war progressed, the women’s disloyal activities escalated, and Federal response grew stronger. Some Confederate partisan women were banished to the South, while others were held at Alton Military Prison and other sites. The guerilla war in Missouri resulted in more arrests of women, and the task of incarcerating them became more complicated.
The women’s offenses were seen as treasonous by the Federal government. By determining that women—who were excluded from the politics of the male public sphere—were capable of treason, Federal authorities implicitly acknowledged that women acted in ways that had serious political meaning. Nearly six decades before U.S. women had the right to vote, Federal officials who dealt with Confederate partisan women routinely referred to them as citizens. Federal officials created a policy that conferred on female citizens the same obligations male citizens had during time of war and rebellion, and they prosecuted disloyal women in the same way they did disloyal men.
The women arrested in the St. Louis area are only a fraction of the total number of female southern partisans who found ways to advance the Confederate military cause. More significant than their numbers, however, is what the fragmentary records of these women reveal about the activities that led to their arrests, the reactions women partisans evoked from the Federal authorities who confronted them, the impact that women’s partisan activities had on Federal military policy and military prisons, and how these women’s experiences were subsumed to comport with a Lost Cause myth—the need for valorous men to safeguard the homes of defenseless women.


Thomas F. Curran has taught in the department of social studies at Cor Jesu Academy in St. Louis since 2003, and before that he taught at Saint Louis University and the University of Notre Dame. For eight years he served as managing editor of the Journal of Policy History. Curran is the author of Soldier of Peace: Civil War Pacifism and the Postwar Radical Peace Movement.


"Thomas Curran’s Women Making War is a desperately needed addition to the fields of Civil War military occupation, treason, and women’s studies."—Elle Harvell, The Journal of the Civil War Era

"By the end of this book, the reader should be convinced of Curran’s main point: women made war on the Union and the Union made war on women. This is a book that adds to the historiographical discussions of the subfields of hard war, guerrilla warfare, and the Lieber Code, to name a few. By explicitly focusing on women, Curran helps to further reinvigorate these fields and a body of literature that has used terms like “civilian” when they are really referring to women."—Joseph M. Beilein Jr.Missouri Historical Review

"Curran's Women Making War makes strong contributions to Civil War women's studies, the guerrilla warfare scholarship, and the history of the Union Army's military justice system."—Andrew J. Wagenhoffer, Civil War Books and Authors

"While Curran cites the difficulties of “incomplete records, misfiled documents, misspelled names, bad penmanship, and more,” his ability to track Confederate women throughout the war is impressive and a powerful reminder of how tireless research can support a complicated argument. . . . [R]eaders and scholars with wide-ranging interests will find Women Making War useful and fascinating."—Heather Carlquist Walser, Civil War Monitor

"Women Making War is a well-written and enlightening look at this aspect of the war and how it affected women in St. Louis"—Sheila R. Phipps​, Civil War Book Review

"[T]his is a fascinating read for those interested in how ‘justice’ was meted out to increasing numbers of female Confederate prisoners through the war years by Union adjudicators."—Joan WennerCivil War News

Women Making War takes up a worthy topic that has not received enough attention from historians. To date, it is the only full scholarly treatment of Confederate women engaged in war in the critical area of St. Louis. The book combines prodigious research in many dispersed and difficult-to-use sources with deep knowledge of the local context. Women Making War is an excellent piece of historical writing.”—Stephanie McCurry, author of Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War

“Thomas F. Curran provides much needed insight into the lives of Confederate women who, in their efforts to subvert the Union cause, ran afoul of military authorities. Anchored by a variety of entertaining and informative primary sources, he reminds us that there is still more to explore about female agency in directing the course of the Civil War.”—Victoria E. Ott, author of Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War

“Curran’s meticulous research adds new dimensions to our understanding of politics, loyalty, and gender in wartime. It is a must-read for anyone who wants a better understanding of the roles that women played during the Civil War.”—Jonathan W. White, author of Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War

“As Thomas F. Curran argues, women were not simply the objects of Federal repression: they did much to promote the Confederacy. In this volume, Curran works to recover the forgotten roles women played in advancing the Confederate cause.”—Louis S. Gerteis, author of Civil War St. Louis